Diary of a fourth category racer – March: I am Jacky Durand

Tom channels his inner Jacky Durand as the season begins to heat up

One thing they’ll tell you when you start racing crits is there is absolutely no point trying to win from a breakaway.  You ain’t Jens Voigt, they’ll sneer, you are not half the man Jacky Durand was. The glory of a heroic solo victory is not to be experienced by the likes of you.

It’s a shame, but it’s the nature of the beast really; the courses are too short, the circuits are usually far too flat and featureless to really use the terrain to your advantage. Team tactics don’t really come into it and there are definitely no TV cameras in front of which to get your sponsor’s logo. All in all, a waste of time.

Nevertheless, in my first few races I had a go. ‘A dig’ I think they call it, to find out at least what it was like being off the front.

Basically, being off the front is horrible.

Tom is now three months into his first season of racing and has become a pro at pinning on a number

Typically my standard ‘attack’ has involved me flogging my guts out on the toughest part of the circuit to get a gap, then adopting full mantis TT mode for a good minute of max power output – only to turn around and find the peloton still immediately behind me. Cut to me wheezing and exhausted as I plummet through the bunch towards the back.

With these hard lessons learned my plan for my latest crit race was to stay in the pack until the final moments and then go for a sort of long-range sprint, a la Eddy Boss in his prime, or your Simon Gerrans-type puncheur-sprinter. Maybe I could get a couple of points for coming ninth or something.

With this goal in mind and with two thirds of the race completed, I decided it was time to move up, to try and take a decent position before the first lap board was shown. I came around the outside of the peloton and tucked in about sixth wheel. This was going swimmingly, I thought. On the way past the finish I saw the commissaire fiddling with his lap board – so knew that the finale must be imminent

And then, sort of by mistake I was on the front. First one, then two of the guys ahead peeled off, deciding to suck some air for a little while before the end of the race. And then, through some strange quirk of me actually nailing a corner for once, I was on the front. The guy who was supposed to be on the front overshot the bend and ended up by the verge on the far outside of the track.

Crikey, I thought, this is hard.

The wind and air resistance on the front of the peloton was incredible. As we’d turned the bend, the wind also had turned to be blowing right down our throats. I looked behind me, and somehow I’d opened a gap. Quite a big gap actually. With two early attackers up the road I decided to bridge up to them. Arriving just in time for them, visibly flagging, to pull over and let me take the front.

Very kind of you, lads. Much obliged.

A beautiful day in Hillingdon only disguises the pain and suffering dished out by the circuit

As we swung back around the finish, a few more intrepid escapists had joined on the group. We were seven, And we had about 20 seconds. The commissaire was still faffing with the lap boards, but not holding any up.

Max, six more laps I reassured myself. This one, and then the final five. We can do this!

I was starting to feel really quite sick. All of us did a bit of yelling to get one another to do turns – mainly, I think, because that’s what we’d seen the pros do on TV. It was brilliant fun.

“You do a turn!”
“No you do a turn!”

And then the bunch was suddenly gaining on us. They were mere metres away. Everyone in the break began yelling again, panicky this time. Everyone of us trying to drive the group onwards. No lap boards again.

The Hillingdon Cycle Circuit is a 0.93-mile traffic-free track in west London

I think it was about then that I realised what was happening. Sometimes in amateur racing, the fourth cat men and the women’s race will be on the course at the same time. Then the women’s race, typically shorter, will finish with their five countdown laps. After which point the men’s final five begins.

When we had seen the commissaire fiddling about with lap boards, it was because he had just shown them to the women. Which meant, we were right in the middle of their countdown of five laps. And that meant we had two more laps to go before our countdown would even begin. This was going to be agony.

The break began to disintegrate. After a storming turn on the front we lost ‘Greeny’ (as I had nicknamed him). Greeny was soon to be followed by one of the two riders I’d nicknamed ‘Reddy’. I really wasn’t at my most imaginative at this stage, as most of my mental efforts were being expended on not having my pancreas come erupting out of my mouth.

Finally, mercifully, the first of the men’s lap boards was shown. Five to go. It takes about two minutes to get round. That’s ten more minutes of misery to endure and then we’re home dry. Fortunately, ‘Bluey’ was still looking quite sprightly, so we let him do a couple of big turns in the hope of fending off the bunch. It was working.

“This is going to stick!” said Bluey.
“Cough, splutter. Acchhaaa,” I responded.

Four laps. Three laps. Two bloody laps! But with less than a lap to go, the inevitable happened. The back of our breakaway was caught by the very tip of a very strung out peloton. Sensing the jig was up, Bluey attacked, distancing everyone and striking out for victory alone.

That’s nice for Bluey, I thought, He’ll probably win now. He deserves it.

Points! And money!

I was knackered, with no energy to chase Bluey down. Resigned to being swamped by the bunch. But the swamping never came. I was on the front of the peloton, and another bloke in pink kit – bet you can’t guess his nickname – came past me on the outside. I latched onto him and he towed me ever closer to the finish. Digging deep, deep into my suitcase of courage, I powered through for a fourth place. And I’m not even embarrassed to say I punched the air like I’d just won on the Champs Elysees.

Points! I’d won actual British Cycling points that count towards moving up to cat three. I was elated. I was ecstatic. And then all of a sudden I was having a coughing fit on the grass by the clubhouse. But I was still really pleased.

To cap it all, I won £15 for my efforts, handed over in a little white envelope – which is as close to a pro cycling contract as I think I’m likely to get in my lifetime.

I am Jacky bloody Durand, I thought, as I pedaled home.

Tom was racing at the West Drayton Mountain Bike Club Specialized Crits series, which is held at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit for one more week. If he can get fourth, you could probably win the thing…


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